When we lose a loved one, we lose the ability to talk to him or her, to ask for advice and to make amends. At the same time, we often experience emotions that are uncomfortable and/or socially unacceptable. Finding an outlet for all of the complicated emotions involved in the grieving process is important, and writing/journaling can be a way to do so. In fact, research has shown that writing can improve mood and well-being for people who have lost a loved one.
Writing can be a way to continue the conversation with your dead loved one—to write him or her letters and ask for advice or forgiveness. It can help you hold on to memories, recall details about how your loved one died and process conflicting emotions.
Starting a Writing Practice
If you’re new to journaling, the most important step is to just start. The emotional and physical benefits from journaling come from writing 15 minutes a day for three to four days a week—so there is no need to overwhelm yourself with writing time.
Journaling can take many forms, but many grievers find the following types of writing helpful:
- Letters to their loved one;
- Letters to themselves, either to a past self or a future self;
- Letters to other people in your life, especially if there are things you want to say but are afraid to express out loud;
- Letters to your children;
- Free-form writing about emotions;
- Detailed descriptions of your loved one’s death;
- Memories, especially memories you shared with your loved one and no one else;
- Descriptions of how your loved one looked, smelled, behaved. His or her favorite foods, a favorite song, etc. Many people are afraid of forgetting these things about their loved one and find that writing it down both gives them confidence that they can come back to it in the future and also helps solidify the memories so they aren’t lost;
If you’re not sure how to start, here are some prompts that will help you write through your grief.
- What is your biggest regret? Explain why, and ask for forgiveness.
- What happened the day your loved one died?
- Ask your loved one for advice about a dilemma you’re facing now—and try to imagine how he or she would respond.
- What is your happiest memory with your loved one?
- What is your funniest memory with your loved one?
- How would you describe your loved one to someone who never met him or her in five minutes or less?
- What are you afraid to say out loud but wish you could tell someone?
- What brought you joy today?
Writing can be a good way to work through your emotions—but working with a counselor can also be an important part of untangling the complex emotions involved after a major loss. I can help you make the most of your journal time, discuss some of the feelings you uncover while journaling and guide you towards joy. Working with a counselor provides a safe space, like journaling, to discuss difficult feelings that people aren’t comfortable expressing to family and friends.